In our Headliners series of conversations, we get under the skin of PR and communications leaders around the world who have made PRovoke Media headlines recently, uncovering what they see as the greatest challenges and opportunities for the industry, where they find inspiration (and how they switch off), what they’ve learned about themselves, as well as the creative campaigns they love and the work they are most proud of.

In this week's Q&A, we speak to Sarah Shilling, who was this week named as Porter Novelli's new EMEA chief executive.  

What are the greatest challenges and opportunities for the PR and communications industry over the next 12 months?

The most significant challenges are having the agility to communicate at the speed of culture, being truly data-led, managing misinformation, navigating AI, and keeping communications firmly on a seat at the c-suite table. These of course, all present great opportunities.

What’s the best PR campaign you’ve seen recently and why?

A campaign for Testicular Awareness Month, by the OddBalls Foundation, was based on such a simple yet powerful creative idea driving much-needed awareness. London’s Westminster Bridge was turned into a head-turning installation for the 40,000 passengers that pass it every day. The way the sun shone through the apertures in the side of the bridge produced hundreds of testicle silhouettes along the pavement, to which signage directed people’s attention with a clear call to action: #CheckYourBalls. It is such a clever and creative way to get people thinking about such an important health issue.

What work from your team are you most proud of over the past year?

The way we are redefining earned. Porter Novelli has created an ‘Earnfluence’ model which focuses on a social-first approach. We harness the power of influencers to generate earned coverage and show up authentically in trending conversations to generate talkability and fame for our clients. We take external factors from multiple sources including social listening trends, insights, data points (signal in) and this enables us to place clients’ products and services at the intersection of culture (signal out) in an incredibly compelling way. Agility has been critical to the success of this, alongside client trust and an appetite for change. 

What have you learned about yourself over the past couple of years?

That I sometimes underestimate the positive impact I can have on people and how important it is to take time to actively listen and get to know people. You never know what is going on anyone’s life at any point, and kindness is not a weakness but a strength, so I have learned to use it in abundance. I have also realised I am actually an introvert in an industry full of extroverts!

How do you switch off and maintain wellness?

We recently moved out of London and live next to a field of Highland cows – I love being out in the countryside as it provides me with a real sense of calm. Otherwise running or playing the piano – belting out a bit of Rachmaninov is surprisingly quite the stress reliever.

What cultural source (eg book/podcast/movie/TV show/music artist) has provided creative inspiration for you lately?

I take a lot of  inspiration from people’s life journeys and there is no better place than Netflix for a solid documentary. I recently watched the Swamp Kings, a documentary that relives the Gators’ (US football team) journey under the leadership of Urban Meyer. It was a masterclass in insights around mental strength, resilience under pressure, how to build a winning team, channel talent, manage competitive streaks, temper egos, and keep everyone focused.

If I wasn’t working in PR/comms I would be…

A criminal lawyer or criminal psychologist. I am obsessed with the connection between the mind and crime.